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An Insider Glimpse Into Effective Media Relations

What do reporters and editors really want from publicists?  What is the best way to pitch a story to them?  And, importantly, how do you avoid annoying them?  These and other questions were candidly addressed at the recent “Washington Women in Public Relations Annual Media Roundtable,” held at the historic Arts Club in Washington, DC on June 20, 2007.  Holding forth were the following panelists:

•    Nancy Kerr, Features Editor, Washington Post.com

•    Heather Dahl, Senior Producer/Story Planning, Fox News,  National

•    Chad Pergram, Chief Correspondent, Capitol Hill Bureau, Public Radio International

•    Kristen Page-Kirby, Section Editor/Features, “Washington Post Express”

Pitching With A Purpose

The panelists agreed that pitches with a twist got their attention.  They look for quirky and fresh story angles on holidays, seasonal trends, and news.  For example, don’t pitch golf gifts for Father’s Day, pleaded Ms. Page-Kirby.  They especially wanted great story ideas during the slow news months of July and August.

The Fundamentals of Media Relations

Hoping to build a relationship with a journalist?  Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the name and beat of the individual reporters, the panelists suggested being friendly and reliable, and seeking out ways you can make their jobs easier—such as providing photographs, research statistics, and product samples.  Checking in once a month or so to see if there are any stories you can help with is acceptable; e-mailing them once a week is not.  The journalists said they receive from forty to two hundred e-mailed pitches daily.

Media Relations “Do’s” and “Don’ts”

•    DO demonstrate that you are familiar with the style and format of the media you’re targeting, and tailor your pitches and releases to that publication or broadcast. 

•    DO e-mail concise press releases, with important information about the topic and date in the subject line.  Ms. Dahl emphasized the importance of writing press releases with the Blackberry in mind—if she can’t get to the point of your communication in two clicks, you’ve lost her interest.
•    DO e-mail relevant and timely updates, when appropriate.  Mr. Pergram urged the audience not to discount the importance of the one-line, e-mailed tidbit of information; he can sometimes build a story around it.

•    DO orchestrate your media events for success. Generally, the journalists weren’t enthused about attending press conferences, but they agreed that they would be most likely to attend a media event that was held in a convenient location, after business hours, with refreshments—but then only if it appeared to be fun or interesting.

•    DO return calls promptly.  The most annoying pet peeve cited by the panelists was publicists who did not return their calls for two days or more. 

•    DON’T send attachments or high resolution images with your e-mailed press releases and updates, but DO let journalists know that high resolution images are available for the asking.  Ms. Page-Kirby said great photographs are always appreciated and suggested creating a web site with high resolution images—even stock photography—that could be accessed by journalists, as needed. 

•    DON’T make multiple follow-up phone calls, but DO leave a voice mail message the first time you call, and be patient about the return call. 

•    DON’T expect journalists to view video news releases or b-roll.  These panelists mentioned that they just don’t have the time.

•    DON’T fax press releases to an anonymous “Editor.”  Any fax without a properly spelled contact name goes right in the circular file.

Mary Fletcher Jones is the co-owner of Fletcher Prince Communications http://www.fletcherprince.com a Washington, DC area creative agency offering public relations and marketing services.  She is a member of Washington Women in Public Relations and the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.  Read her blog at http://www.fletcherprince.com/blog2

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